Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He also trains dogs, mostly aggressive animals that were never taught impulse control.
The Power of Teaching Dogs Impulse Control
Impolite puppies jump up on their owners, steal food at picnics, pull on the leash, and run out the door as soon as it is opened. Can normal obedience classes take care of these problems? Sometimes, but not always.
You need to focus on teaching your dog to control himself, and teaching impulse control is the best way to make him polite. A dog that has been taught to control his impulsive behavior will:
- wait for permission to move when told to stay.
- wait at the door.
- wait at an open car door for permission to jump out.
- wait by your side for permission to run free when walking without a leash.
Although your dog will have the impulse to do what he wants, he can learn self-control and will look to you for the release command.
Why Should I Teach My Dog Impulse Control?
- Break Food Theft: Impulse control will teach your dog not to steal food off of plates. All dogs are quick at stealing food, but large dogs can be fast and scary when little children are enjoying themselves with a big plate of food at a picnic. Don’t you want a dog that will stretch out in a corner of the yard and not beg and steal?
- Break Impulsive Eating: Train your dog to ask before taking something from the floor. A dog with no impulse control will eat anything you drop, even if it is not good for his health. Wouldn't you feel better if your dog stopped and looked at you to ask permission before swallowing that piece of dark chocolate that fell on the kitchen floor?
- Break Unwanted Jumping: Teach your dog not to jump up on people. Not everyone likes dogs, and if your impolite dog jumps on everyone he meets, he might end up scaring or hurting someone.
- Break Bolting: Train your dog to wait at the door of your house until he has permission to go out. This might save you from being knocked over, might prevent him from running out of the house and biting your delivery person, and it might even save him from running out into traffic.
- Break Bailing: Teach your dog to stay in the car until he is released. Dogs that jump out of the car without permission might end up being hit by a car.
- Break Bossiness: Train your dog that he cannot do what he wants when he wants. An impulsive dog will jump up on the couch without permission. In fact, he will do whatever he feels like at the moment.
A Lesson From the Monks of New Skete
The monks of New Skete teach impulse control to prevent their German Shepherd puppies from running free and getting in fights with other loose dogs, running off when walking without a leash, or bothering guests.
During the monks' mealtimes, they let the puppies accompany them to the dining hall and watch the adults. The dogs do not have special mats, but are put on the floor of the dining hall in a "down"/"stay" command and have to lie there quietly during the meal. Since the puppies see the polite behavior of the older dogs, they see impulse control in action and are easier to train.
The Monks of New Skete and Dog Training
Teaching Your Dog to "Sit" and "Stay"
“Sit” and “stay” are two basic commands that a dog can learn quickly. The commands should be practiced almost every day until they become second nature. A dog that can sit and stay until he is called to come to you will learn to be polite in all situations.
As part of impulse control training, you need to tell your dog to “sit” and have him maintain that position while you stand there and watch. Ask him to sit for a longer period of time each session; although he will want to get up and move on to the next step (as all dogs do), he will have to learn to be polite and wait for you to teach him the next command.
How to Teach Your Dog to "Stay:"
- Put him in a "down" or "sit."
- Tell him to “stay” without using his name, but do use a hand signal.
- Move a few feet away from him and then call him; give him a treat and praise him.
- If your dog follows you even when you have told him to "stay," you might need to put him on a leash. If he gets up before you have called him, tell him “no,” and step closer, holding on to the leash to keep him in place.
- When he has learned to "stay," move further away and ask him to "stay" in place longer and longer each session.
Teaching Your Dog the Basic "Sit" Command
Teaching Your Dog to "Leave It"
I teach the "leave it" command to all of my puppies as soon as possible. All dogs can learn this command in just one day, and as long as it is practiced during several training sessions, the dog will remember it for the rest of his life.
How to Teach Your Dog to "Leave It:"
- Put a treat in your right hand.
- When he tries to grab it from your hand, tell him “leave it,” and close your hand before he has a chance to snatch it away.
- As soon as he looks away from your hand, give him a treat from your other hand. (Never give him the treat you have told him he cannot have.)
- When he understands that he will not get a treat until he has looked away from your hand, try putting a treat on the floor.
- When he goes to grab it, tell him “leave it." Put your foot over the treat (quickly), and as soon as he looks up at you, give him a treat from your other hand. (An impulsive dog will rub his nose in your hand and do anything to get that treat you have hidden.)
I never give the dog the treat that I am teaching him to leave, but as you can see from the video below, this trainer uses a different method and gets excellent results. I also recommend using a special treat instead of regular dog food. I like to give tiny pieces of chicken liver. Liver stinks, so most dogs like it.
Teaching Your Dog the "Leave It" Command
Teaching Your Dog to "Wait"
The "wait" command can be used in several ways. Teaching it at the front door is the easiest, but once your dog has mastered it, you can use it when you open the car door, when you take your dog to an enclosed area to run without a leash, or when your dog starts to run off to play with a dog at the park.
How to Teach Your Dog to "Wait:"
- Put your dog on a leash before going to the door.
- When you open it, an impulsive dog will want to run out. Put your hand down in front of his face and tell him “wait.”
- When he "waits," you can take the leash off (if the yard is fenced in), and let him go out.
- If he tries to run out the door as soon as it is open, hold on to the leash and do not let him out until you have given the command and he has waited per your instructions.
When your dog has learned the meaning of “wait,” you need to practice it in other areas. If you really want him to be polite, you should also practice off-leash, but if your dog decides to disobey, you need to start over from the beginning.
Teaching Your Dog the "Wait" Command
Methods to Reinforce Impulse Control
The best way to reinforce impulse control is by using it every day. When I take my Pitbull for a walk on the beach, she might see one of her canine friends. Since she knows I am going to let her play, she will want to give in to her impulses and run off without asking for permission. I tell her “wait," call her to heel, and I have her watch my right hand. I use a hand signal to release her, and when she sees me wave my hand, she takes off.
Reinforcement is important, so be creative:
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- Socialize your dog whenever you get a chance. Some socialized dogs can be impolite, but dogs that are adapted to many different situations are more likely to be calm.
- Tell her to "sit" in the morning before you let her out.
- Make her "sit" when you are about to put her food down.
- Stop in the middle of her walk and make her "wait."
- Make her "wait" before releasing her to run in the dog park.
Use these commands every time you take your dog for a walk or go to play with your dog. The more you reinforce the lessons, the sooner your dog will learn to be a polite member of your household.
Is It Ever Too Late to Teach Impulse Control?
Teaching impulse control should start when a dog is a puppy. Animal shelters are full of adolescent dogs that were given up because they were never taught polite behavior. If you have adopted a dog that has never been trained, however, do not worry. A dog can be taught to be polite at any age.
The only difference between training a young puppy and an older dog is time. Older dogs, just like older people, are slower to pick up on new concepts and need more repetition. But training an older dog can be a lot of fun. Your training sessions might even be able to last a little longer since older dogs have more patience than puppies. (This depends on the individual dog though; if he gets rowdy or bored during the session, it is time to stop.)
Will Your Dog Become Aggressive Without Impulse Control?
According to the dog trainer and author Joachim Volhard, failure to teach basic impulse control exercises is one of the main reasons he sees aggression in dogs. An untrained dog will get up on the couch when he wants and will growl when told to get off; this is because he has the impulse to lie there and no one is going to make him move.
Most of the aggressive dogs I work with also have poor impulse control. A dog that feels it is okay to knock you over when going out the door does not have respect for his owner, and if he has any aggressive tendencies, he will feel it is okay to express them.
Don't let your dog control your house or become so impolite that he feels it is okay to become aggressive. Teach your new dog or puppy to be polite using basic impulse control.
- 3 Easy Ways to Teach a Dog Not to Jump on People
Most of us want a polite dog that will not jump up on children and adult visitors. Check out a few of the easiest ways to teach your dog this valuable lesson.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2018 Dr Mark
Do You Have Other Ideas on How to Teach a Dog to Be Polite? Please Leave a Comment.
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on November 29, 2018:
I think I would have worried about Ashley in the city too. Good thing there were all those kids around to earn that buck!
Natalie Frank from Chicago, IL on November 29, 2018:
Yes, well Lady Ashley (Ashley to her friends (: ) did NOT want to come home. Left to her own devices I'm not sure what would have happened. She was very affectionate for a terrier and very well behaved when inside. When she managed get past someone carefully entering or exiting the door however, she was off and running! Seriously, it was not unusual to have between 5 and 10 kids trying to catch her and bring her back. And all this while she was hunting birds, squirrels or whatever, and chasing after car tires barking at the top of her lungs! I suppose she might have come home eventually as she was very attached to us (and undoubtedly would have wanted a meal if she didn't charm someone else into feeding her). Obviously, we didn't just wait her out with the danger from cars, the possibility someone might decide to keep her and drive her away with her (if they could catch her) or other dangers. She did have her own fenced in yard out back but I guess the grass is always greener. . .
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on November 29, 2018:
Natalie, you are so right, and those expensive trainers are not necessary for most dogs. I try to teach people to train their own dogs, because it is not going to do any good if they obey me but do not listen to their family.
Your little terrier would love it where I live. The front door is always open, and she could run, and run, and run. There is a safety issue (cars) where you live but here dogs get out and then just end up coming home eventually.
Natalie Frank from Chicago, IL on November 29, 2018:
This is an interesting article and suggests that maybe expensive obedience school isn't absolutely necessary. I suspect it's a lot like kids - consistency is the key. I had a wired hair terrier and we managed to train her to sit, lie down, signal when she needed to go out and stay out of certain areas of the house. The one thing we never broke her of though was escaping whenever the door opened. It became a neighborhood competition for the kids. My dad gave a dollar to whoever brought her back. We were told that was the nature of a terrier but to break her of it would force her to go against an important inbred characteristic. My parents had other terriers through the years and it was the same with them. Thanks for the article.
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on February 11, 2018:
Thanks so much. It would be really nice if more dog owners could teach their dogs to be polite. When dogs are rude and jump on people and steal food we all get blamed.
I know I harp on Ajej too much, but it is so great to hear people tell me how polite she is when I take her to the village. Everyone wants one of her puppies and when I try to explain that all dogs can be trained like that, most do not even listen.
Bob Bamberg on February 11, 2018:
I'd love to hand out copies of this hub in the pet supply stores I service. Although I see a lot of well trained dogs, I think I see more that need to read this hub...then pass it on to their owners to read.
Most of the ill-behaved dogs I see in stores get a pass and a knowing look from other pet owners, but in other public places you can see a different look from folks who don't own pets, or who have well trained pets, but encounter poorly trained or untrained dogs. Another very helpful hub.